[Fsf-friends] Light on Free Software

Ramanraj K ramanraj@md4.vsnl.net.in
Sat Nov 15 18:03:07 IST 2003

  I read the article titled "Groping in the dark ... ", by Frederick 
Noronha,  in LINUX For You, November 2003, and thought some light should 
be thrown.  Sorry, there are no links to the article on the world wide web.

 >The we-don't-need-to-promote-FLOSS attitude can lull everyone into a 
false sense
 >of over-confidence.  People who could have used this technology 
effectively simply
 >don't get a chance to.  ... the FLOSS fold has a special responsibility.

Free software was born out of the need and necessity to break free from 
the tyranny and obstacles of proprietary software.  Right from its 
inception, the expression Free Software has meant a negation of all that 
constituted proprietary software.  Software can be intelligibly 
classified only as free or proprietary, where each class clearly and 
fully negates the other.  

The expression FLOSS was used in a survey and study financed under the 
European Commission's IST programme, which did a case study of 
Free/Libre Open Source Software, and the work done is available at 
http://www.infonomics.nl/FLOSS .  The FLOSS study was started on June 1, 
2001 and terminated on October 31, 2002.   The concept of sharing which 
is innate and elementary in the free software movement, was researched 
by elaborate questionnaires! The FLOSS study report, while referring to 
PostgreSQL, says "it is mainly deployed in private use and projects not 
involving mission-critical business operations", which is plainly wrong. 
 Several goverments and entities are developing live projects using 
PostgreSQL, that has a rich set of functions not available in even 
commercial database servers.  The "FLOSS survey and study"  is a gloss, 
when all relevant material is already available at www.gnu.org and 
www.opensource.org. Is FLOSS a technology?  The expression FLOSS was 
used in the  emperical study to refer to Free/Libre Open Source Software 
generally, and cannot be called a "technology".  Even if the FLOSS study 
and report are useful to the European Commission, and to others, it 
would be no reason to use the expression FLOSS to refer to Free Software.

If a new group props up from the community, calling Free Software as 
Public Software, reasoning that "public" is the best word to convey the 
intent of GPL, then would there be another study group, that surveys 
Free/Libre Open Public Source Software - FLOPSS?  Would we then seek to 
replace FLOSS with FLOPSS? This would be endess and meaningless.

We need to gracefully accept the historical background that led to the 
free software movement,  and avoid inventing new expressions to maintain 
clarity and stay focused on the deeper goals and intents of Free 
Software.  Some people freely dip into the Free Software Directory to 
meet needs, but openly refuse to give credit, or use the expression free 
software, which is only unfair.

 >The good thing about the meet is that it's [a symposium in Singapore]
 >trying to network all the FLOSS initiatives in this part of the globe 
and put
 >together a more reliable picture of what's hapenning

At present, we can check into globally accessible servers, and download, 
use, modify, improve, and distribute free software.  If spreading the 
use of free software is itself seen as a project, it would be ideal to 
adopt the same methods adopted to develop free software, by commencing a 
project at savannah or sourceforge, so that there can be global access 
and robust practices evolve. It may be a mere shell script that will 
download relevant software, and install the same in the user's server 
and this could keep count and create feedback channels.  There are no 
sound reasons for isolating software use from software development, as 
both are essentially two sides of the same coin. If Asian projects on 
i18n, l10n, etc are operated from a few well known CVS foundries, then 
even persons with access to the internet, living in even remote 
villages, who clearly understand what is happening can make 
contributions that are globally relevant.  Free software movement has 
incidentally promoted the principle of equality like never before.

 >Mastering technology is good but it's more important to be 
large-hearted when it comes to sharing it

I hope that this is a reference to our friends who work for proprietary 
software. Quite obviously, free software is the ultimate in sharing, and 
it would be crude to accuse people who have contributed towards free 
software of not being large-hearted.

 >We could well convert this into a small self-serving club that doesn't 
grow ...

A friend sent me a copy of Tarka Samgraha by Anambhatta, with its 
expository gloss on ancient Indian epistemology usually called Nyaya 
[Realism] + Vaisesika [Atomistic Pluralism].  The Indian works on logic 
were born, not through any gentle flaming, but through an intense 
burning desire to get to truth. Modern India's motto is a phrase from 
the Mundaka Upanishad: Sathyameva Jayethe, translated as "Truth 
Triumphs".  The Upanishads are seen as a clear strarting point for 
studies on logic, and further works on the methods of arriving at the 
truth by reasoning developed and evolved gradually. The Nyaya Sutras 
were written by Gautama. The Vaisesika Sutras were by Kanada.   
Vatsyayana was the first author  who explained the entire scheme of 
Indian epistemology, however, globally better known today for his Kama 
Sutra. The Tarka Samgraha is a dipika or commentary on the original 
older works.  The Tarka translation in hand was rendered by Swami 
Virupakshananda of the Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.  The opening quotation 
is: "Logic and grammar are indispensable aids for every branch of 
Knowledge".  AI applications, even today, do not give grammar the 
importance it deserves.

Long before Stephens drafted the Evidence Act in 1872, we had several 
works, dealing scientifically and comprehensively with primary evidence, 
verbal testimony, inference, deduction and these works were actually 
used in every day life.  

Nachiketa <-at the doorstep of-> Death, Gautama, Kanada, Vatsyayana, 
Anambhatta are a few names I have listed here, as associated with Indian 
epistemology.  Now, could we call them as "self-serving" individuals who 
affixed their names to their works?  Their works stand on their own, and 
we will carry forward the memory of the author along with the work, only 
if we accept their value.  I am convinced they are an invaluable source, 
atleast, to improve my own Calpp: aided legal procedures and proceedings 
project.  Calpp is the mission of my life, and I make no bones about it. 
 The Calpp project could be seen as self-serving its author Ramanraj, 
but it could also be seen as serving real human needs. We will gain and 
grow a lot when Indian epistemology is available as part of free software.

Section VII, of the Tarka Samgraha dealing with valid verbal testimony 
says: "Significative potency is the desire that a certain concept be 
understood from a certain word."

Viewed from this angle,  RMS, the founder of the free software movement 
desired the world to break free from proprietary licences and initiated 
the free software movement.  The whole philosophy and concepts behind 
the movement stand elegantly loaded on the expression "free software". 
 I hope that all of us can see the significance of the free software 
movement, and voluntarily use the expression "free software" instead of 
other expressions.

K. Ramanraj.


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